31 May 2011

BBC Writers Academy 2011 - Full Reads

Hello! Coffee to hand? Cafetiere none the less, check you with the saliva and the boogley eyes! 
Last week I helped out with the BBC Writers Academy Full Reads process and a few people have been asking what happens next. So because my last 'blog' was a giant tweeting exercise, I have written down a bit about it here instead. Please bear in mind that I am a freelance script reader and for obvious reasons I cannot go in to individual details on scripts. It is a broad overview from my personal perspective, a snap shot and I hope that it helps give you a taste of the next stage. :) Here goes...

This year saw 156 writers get picked so far from 495 entries for the BBC Writers Academy 2011. With the overall standard feeling high this year it has been a tough competition, so congratulations to those that have made it this far. :) To those of you that were not fortunate enough this time round, you know what I'm going to say - keep writing! I guess when it comes to all competitions and writing opportunities like the WA, it can feel scary to feel like you are just a number, that a script you have put a piece of your soul in to is being judged and you are up against hundreds of other entries - but as someone who is about to send her own script out in to the world soon (*gulp) I look at it like this - rejection is a big part of the life of a writer and frankly the more doors you knock the more doors will open. I always think my job as a writer is to make that script the best it can be and get it front of people that matter. Darn hard! But often being a writer is more than just writing... as I am constantly learning! *eek!

Okay, back to script reading... The next stage sees every script have two full reads, by two different script readers/editors. This is the fairest and most effective method of marking the scripts. It is also the time when I hope that those first ten pages that got these scripts this far, really do pay off throughout the rest of the script! There is only one way to find out...

1) THE SCORE SHEET: Stapled to the front of every script is now a new sheet of paper; it has two columns on it - one for the first reader to put their marks and another for the second reader to put theirs. Unlike the ten page tick sheet in the initial sift, this sheet is much more detailed in its criteria and it really aims to break the script down so that by totalling the scores it becomes clear where the scripts strengths and weaknesses lie. Marks are scored out of 5 for each category and there are eight categories in total. 

What is always interesting about this part of the sift, is that every year I trick myself in to thinking that full reads are going to be very difficult to mark-up; if the scripts got past the initial ten page read then they must all be really good, right? Wrong. Every very year I am surprised how once I get past those ten pages and delve deeper in to the story, the structure, the dialogue, the characters - how a brilliant script really shines out against a good/average script. One day, for example, I read eight scripts and I only really remember one of them thinking about it now. None of those eight scripts were particularly bad scripts, but one of them was brilliant. It hit me emotionally - it made me feel something. I scored it highly.  

2) CRITERIA: You will not be surprised that the score sheet asks for what anyone of you would ask from a TV show, radio play, film or theatre piece that you are giving up time in your life to watch. There's no secret BBC conspiracy theories or extra special weird and wonderful requirements from your script. It is simply the basic requirements of all great scripts...

Is the dialogue naturalistic? Are the characters well defined? Does it have emotional appeal? Does it make you feel anything - from laughter in a comedy to scared in a horror? Does it have a defined narrative structure and pace? Does the writer have a distinctive voice? Did it keep your attention? Or were you bored and uninterested as the script went on?

I sit in a quiet room with a ticking clock and give the script a flat read. I get through the opening act and start to predict in my head where I think the story is going and who I think these characters are. I can hear the clock ticking. Will I be surprised? Will I be drawn in to the world? Will I want to read on to find out what happens? Does the dialogue grip me? I get to the second act; have I noticed the passing of time? Can I still hear the ticking of the clock? Are my thoughts drifting to coffee or am I now invested? When I turn over that last page in the final act, do I feel like I have just finished a chore or am I buzzing from just experiencing a journey with a character I could empathise with? I mark up the score sheet and move on to the next script... and the next one... and, you get the picture.

3) FINALLY: I am just one reader of many who has the job of getting 156 scripts down to 30 for the long-list. Scripts that have had their first read get passed on to another reader/editor for their second read. The totals are added up and the high scorers will get picked for the long-list. I can truly say I have read some great scripts this year, there are some fab writers out there among you and I wish you all the best of luck. 

Now forget about all of this until you hear from the powers that be or you will drive yourself mad! ;)

Keep writing, reading and eating.



  1. Thanks for this, really useful insight into the process. As you say, though, best to forget about it and try not to drive myself mad! Hate the waiting... :-)

  2. Hi John :) Thanks for the nice message and well done for getting through to the next round. I shall keep my fingers, legs and eyes crossed for you in the meantime!